Two 2009 rookie free agents who quit the Dolphins last summer will not have to repay their signing bonuses, according to a ruling this weekend by Stephen Burbank, the special master for disputes involving the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The Dolphins sought to force OT SirVincent Rogers of Houston and TE Jared Bronson of Central Washington to repay their signing bonuses after the club claimed they failed to fulfill the terms of the standard player contracts they had signed. Rogers received a $7,000 signing bonus but quit the team after five days, saying he didn't want to play football. Bronson received an $8,000 signing bonus but didn't even report to the team.
The NFL Players Association, which represented the two players, relied on some of the same CBA provisions that came into play in the bonus-money disputes involving Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress.
Professor Burbank ruled in the NFL's favor in the Vick case, but his decision was overturned in February 2008 by U.S. District Judge David Doty of Minneapolis, who ruled that Vick could keep all but $3.75 million of nearly $20 million in bonus money he received from the Falcons before the quarterback pled guilty to federal charges related to his involvement in a dogfighting operation.
Doty, who has overseen all CBA-related disputes since a 1993 settlement that resulted in the current CBA system, ruled that the CBA didn't allow teams to recover a roster bonus once it was earned (once the player makes the roster, even the 80-man offseason roster). On the other hand, the decision allowed the Falcons to recover $3.75 million in signing-bonus money because signing bonuses were governed by different provisions in the CBA and the union hadn't challenged the forfeiture of that bonus money.
Recouping "unearned" bonus money will be an issue in the ongoing CBA negotiations, according to NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash.
"The illogical and unintended consequences of these rulings are one of the many reasons why the current CBA needs to be changed," Pash said. "We are committed to addressing this issue in our negotiations with the NFLPA and reaching a CBA that prevents these kinds of results in the future."
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